What is Cooperative Learning?
We humans are fundamentally social animals. This doesn't necessarily mean we are all extroverted people who love to work in large groups and get a charge out of socializing. What this means is that throughout our history we have evolved to work in groups to maximize our abilities. Some anthropologists theorize this was a deciding factor in the species Homo Sapiens winning out over the Neanderthals - our larger groups were more resistant to challenges by virtue of communal support. Larger groups allowed for more hunting, more gathering, and more caring for the sick and elderly. We've spent millions of years flourishing as social creatures, so it should come as no surprise that we learn best in this manner as well.
Cooperative learning refers to small, group-based instruction in which students work together to achieve a learning goal. This is utilized at virtually every school, at every grade level, around the world. There are reasons to this, which we'll cover in the Supporting Theory section, but for now just understand that it is an extremely common and effective pedagogical tool.
Cooperative learning can be further understood by comparing it to the two other main learning structures. Individualist learning involves students working autonomously towards their instructional goal. This style certainly has its merits, as it helps students to promote self-discipline and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, competitive learning is when students vie against each other to achieve a learning goal. While competitive learning has quite a few detractors, when exercised properly it can help students develop a healthy competitive drive and provide extrinsic motivation. In cooperative and individualist learning, students are assessed against a rubric to determine success, while competitive learning pits student performance against each other, such as grading an assignment on a curve.
Types of Cooperative Learning
Utilizing cooperative learning in the classroom isn't quite as simple as assigning students to groups and then letting them work. Without properly planning how to incorporate cooperative learning, you'll end up herding cats, which is adorable but frustrating. Instead, a teacher should first determine if cooperative learning is best suited for achieving the desired learning outcome. If cooperative learning is the best method, then the teacher should choose from the three main types of cooperative learning.
Formal cooperative learning involves organized and preplanned cooperative learning efforts. It is up to the teacher if she wants to enforce formal dress, but a bunch of third graders in black tie would be delightful. In formal cooperative learning, students are frequently assigned to groups by the teacher to ensure proper group dynamics, and then these groups work toward a shared learning goal. The role of the teacher in this process is primarily in planning and organizing the cooperative learning environment and assignment then monitoring students' learning to maximize outcomes. Providing ongoing assessment is vital to ensure students are working effectively and learning is achieved.
Informal cooperative learning is a common tactic that breaks students into temporary groups in an ad-hoc fashion. These groups may last for a few minutes to a whole class period. The students in this format are still working towards a shared learning goal, but the atmosphere is less controlled and planned. As such, the teacher's role is lessened when compared to formal cooperative learning. Though the teacher still provides the activity and monitors student performance, the goals for informal cooperative learning are generally of a much shorter term. Whereas formal cooperative learning may be utilized for projects spanning days or weeks, informal cooperative learning is best used to help reinforce specific concepts by having students engage in a discussion for a period of time and then produce an answer.
Cooperative base groups are when students are organized into long-term groups with set membership. These groups are organized by the teacher to ensure proper balance of social and academic abilities. The teacher's responsibilities include ensuring a time is scheduled for each group to meet, preferably daily, tracking the group's progress, assigning specific tasks, and encouraging self-reflection by members of the group. The group members are responsible to each other, helping to make sure they are completing their work, understanding instructional concepts, and providing moral and social support. The longer the group remains stable, the more committed students become to each other's success and the greater influence they have on each other's behavior. If properly utilized, cooperative base groups can greatly influence students' performance, attendance, and quality of education.
Formal research on socialization has been occurring since the late 19th century, and virtually all of it points to the benefits of cooperative learning. Cooperation promotes higher achievement in students based on clinical testing. This means that if teachers wish to maximize learning outcomes, they should be engaging in as much cooperative learning as possible. This may be because students in cooperative learning groups spend more time working on their tasks and less time engaging in disruptive behavior, while also reporting more positive learning experiences.
The benefits of cooperative learning aren't restricted solely to academics. Students engaging in cooperative learning - particularly long-term groupings - develop better social relationships with their group members, which supports a number of non-academic activities. Students who have good relationships in school have lower rates of absenteeism or dropout, are more willing to face challenges, and are more motivated and persistent in their schoolwork. These students also have better relationships with their non-group peers and have more stable friendships. Though lacking in direct evidence, it's not a stretch to think that students who have positive experiences in cooperative learning gain confidence in their ability to interact with peers and therefore develop greater social skills.
Hopefully now you see the benefits that are associated with cooperative learning. Let's go over the main points one last time. Cooperative learning is an instructional methodology in which students are broken up into small groups and work together to achieve a learning outcome. Cooperative learning is in contrast to individualistic learning, which has students work towards goals autonomously, and competitive learning, which pits students against one another to achieve learning goals. Implementing cooperative learning can be done in three ways: formal cooperative learning, informal cooperative learning, and cooperative base groups. Finally, when students engage in cooperative learning, it benefits them both academically and socially.
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Cooperative Learning - A Practical Exercise:
The following exercise is designed to allow students to apply their knowledge of Cooperative Learning using real-life examples.
Out in New York state, Boomer College is making headlines around the country for what it calls cooperative learning. According to the Dean, Jenna Smartsy, students attending Boomer College have higher employment rates post-graduation now compared to before the new learning system was introduced.
Below is a list of the various practices implemented at Boomer College. For each practice, determine which type of cooperative learning is most applicable.
|1||The calculus teacher placed a group of students who failed the course the previous semester together who work on daily homework assignments together after class.|
|2||The history teacher implemented a strategy where she explained the context of a historical event and then allowed students to form groups for 10 minutes to discuss what was the motive behind the event.|
|3||The entrepreneurship teacher asks groups of students to make 1-minute elevator pitches. Once the time is up, students are not allowed to continue speaking.|
|4||The accounting professor formed a group of students that averaged 90% or higher in previous accounting courses and gave them additional projects and case studies to solve as a team to challenge them further.|
|5||The art teacher teaches creativity by having students form groups and start painting. When students feel like it, they can exchange paintings and discuss their opinions.|
|1||Cooperative base groups.|
|2||Informal cooperative learning.|
|3||Formal cooperative learning.|
|4||Cooperative base groups.|
|5||Informal cooperative learning.|
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